Lươn A Banquet of Eel – 108 of 365

Stir Fried Eel

Only in Vietnam could five guys feast on a banquet of eel dishes and beer at a cost of less than $10 a person.  Grilled eel with fish herb, lemongrass and scallions.  Chopped eel wrapped in herb leaves and grilled until crispy.  Eel grilled in bamboo with garlic and herbs.  Eel and glass noodle stir fry.   Eel and rice porridge.  Eel, onion and herb stir fry.   Get the picture?  Eel, eel and more eel.  This dinner surely wiped out an entire nest or two wherever it is this stuff spawns.

Rob, Phuc, Xa, Trung, and I sat down at Luon Nghe An, 246 Nghi Tam Street, in Hanoi near the Tay Ho neighborhood.  Leave it to Phuc to yet again uncover a hidden jewel amongst Hanoi’s mass of restaurants.  He brought us the brittle shrimp last week that took me completely out of my comfort zone and once again this dinner proved at first to be a battle of the wills…western tastes versus eastern oddities.

You see, in a former life not so long ago, I would have never touched this stuff known as lươn in Vietnamese.  The smoked “aal” in Germany I once knew exuded a curiously salty smell and an ooze of oil that penetrated the paper wrapper carrying the dubious meat home, and memories of this mess still reek rancid in my mind.  How can I even describe eel in such a way so as not to offend?  Well, it’s like taking a snake and crossing it with a fish.  The outcome won’t win a beauty pageant so what is this desire for certain cultures to consume it?  Were I to judge eel on its looks alone, I’d give this slimy sea critter a wide pass.

Eel With Glass Noodles

Eel wrapped in leafy herbs and grilled inside a bamboo plank is one of those dishes that could easily find a home on the appetizer menu at a nice American restaurant.  Luckily for us though, this critter is barbecued in Hanoi and served in more modest quarters for just a few bucks.   The presentation was intriguing and I wrapped my chopsticks around the first slice at the head of the bamboo.  What I didn’t know until too late was the head of the eel was aimed right towards my mouth.  My teeth crunched down on a texture I shall not describe in polite company.   That offending morsel of vileness quickly found a new home on a plate and remained untouched the rest of dinner.   I will say though the rest of the bamboo grilled eel was tasty and tender albeit quite bony.

Barbecued eel’s flaky white meat is benign enough and the more I ate, the more I wanted.  Even the stir fried varieties in their rubbery glory tasted nice enough, but perhaps it was a beer or two helping propel my chopsticks back and forth for more.  Each course proved a winner and the only remnants proving a meal once graced our table were some empty serving platters and that one offending head.

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Categories: Vietnamese Food

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